Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government has said it will gradually withdraw military operations in some volatile spots in the country that have attained normalcy beginning from the first quarter of 2020.
It was however silent on the specific states of geopolitical zones where the military would withdraw its operations.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ekwe-Ibas, made this disclosure to State House Correspondents after the National security Council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The council is made up of the Minister of Defence, Gen. Bashir Magashi (Rtd); heads of security agencies in the country, including the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin; the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok Ekwe-Ibas; and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Abubakar Sadique.
Others are the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mohammed Adamu; Director-General of Department of State Services (DSS), Yusuf Bichi; and Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Rufai.
The Naval chief explained that the withdrawal of troops will be done after an “assessment” to determine areas where peace has returned to enable civil authorities (police and civil Defence) assume full control of security.
Ibas, who said the meeting was to review the security operations in the country in 2019, added that the withdrawal was to allow the military to focus on its primary duty of defending the nation against external aggression.
“It is the work of the police to handle internal security since Nigeria is not at war.
“The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps will support the police to provide internal security.
“Also, you will remember that additional 10,000 personnel were approved for the police recently for recruitment”, he added.
On the purpose of the meeting, Ekwe-Ibas said: “We had a security council meeting with Mr President where we appraised the year 2019 generally with an emphasis on ongoing operations both within as well as the regional operations ongoing.
“With respect to operations within the country, it was generally agreed and noted that the security agencies have done their very best in ensuring that the deliverables are made clear.
“You will recall that the various operations in the country in the north-east, north-west, north-central, the south-east, as well as the south-west, where all members of the armed forces are taking part as well as the intelligence agencies, have ensured that we all enjoyed a better holiday period that has just been observed.
“We also recalled that in those areas where the military have been able to achieve desired objectives, from the first quarter of next year, the civil authority will be preparing to take back those responsibilities as the military draws back its forces from those areas to enable it to focus its attention on other emerging threats and areas of concern.
“It also observed that in the maritime environment a lot has been done to ensure that our resources are protected. The outcomes of the operations there are have seen to the arrest of about six vessels that were involved in stealing of the nation’s maritime resources.”
The Naval chief said President Buhari has directed that the council and the members of armed forces ensure a peaceful society in 2020, adding “to that effect, we are more than determined to continue from where we stopped in 2019 and to ensure that we sustain our various operations to ensure a secured Nigeria for all of us.”
Asked to mention the areas the military are withdrawing from and what were the specific instructions from President Buhari, Ekwe-Ibas said, “Basically, most of the internal security that we are having as you all are aware is supposed to be the responsibility of the civil authority, the police in particular. Howbeit, so long as Nigeria is not engaged in war outside, it means whatever internal crisis that we have, the responsibility rest with the police. In the circumstances that the military has to come in to stabilize the situation, it is only proper that once one area has been dominated by the military and the situation has returned to normal that the Nigerian police takes over the responsibility. And in this instance, we also have the civil defence which is supposed to support the police in this regards.
“You will recall also that Mr President recently approved the recruitment of about 10,000 Nigerians into the Nigeria Police Force, hoping that once these Nigerians get the appropriate training, they will be in the position to fill the gaps. You are aware that Nigeria is such a big country that we cannot tie down the military even in those areas that the deliverables have been achieved and the objectives achieved.”
Asked if the northeast also be part of where the military will withdraw from and if more resources will be pumped into the police for it to meet its responsibilities, the Naval boss said: “I think I better make it very clear that an assessment of what the military will do will be based on the situation on ground. It is not expected that the military will withdraw when it is apparent that there are still some threats in such locations. I’m sure we are also aware that the nation is procuring equipment for the military. It is expected that before the second quarter of next year most of this equipment shall be in place. It, therefore, means that all our hands are put on the ground, looking at the technology-backed surveillance that will enable the military to react more efficiently and effectively. With that, it is also believed that the Nigerian police will take the lead in containing security in such areas that must have been assessed to be in the right place to sustain. I don’t believe that a responsible military will want to withdraw when it is apparent that there is still a risk that cannot be overcome by the police.”
Pressed to mention the states where the assessments will be carried out, Ekwe-Ibas said: “Certainly I think you got me right. Threats assessment will be carried out to see if such areas are capable of being manned by the police and the civil defence that is the position that was reached.”
On the activities of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and the recent execution of eight Nigerians, the Naval boss said, “On the activities of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), I will also like you to look at it from a broader African perspective. We have in recent past have attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and other countries in West Africa. Of course, the genesis of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) is well known to all of us here. While it is painful to lose people and from within, I think the military is doing all within its power to ensure that we overcome the menace and the threats posed by ISWAP.
“You will also recall that just two weeks back we have had over 27 attacks from Boko Haram and ISWAP in the northeast alone. Our gallant troops out there were able to repel these attacks and even take out some of their commanders. So, it is a thing of concern but the armed forces of Nigeria are doing all in their powers to ensure that, together with other regional partners, the menace of ISWAP is contained.”
Asked if a target to eliminate Boko Haram by 2020 was part of the meeting agenda, Ekwe-Ibas said: “It is our wish to have the insurgency and terrorism issues resolved once and for all to enable us focus on matters of development. At this point I think you as partners will also need to do that much to encourage our armed forces and other security agencies to ensure that what we have coming out from you, supports the efforts of the military while you are doing your legitimate work. It is our hope that we will get done with this insurgency and terrorism that has besieged our country.”